Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Defending Reason, Attacking Faith

This video by Richard Dawkins (hat tip pharyngula) is pretty interesting and does a good job I think of bringing home just how ridiculous most faith-based/superstitious beliefs are. This isn't to say those beliefs are wrong, it's just to say that if the holy spirit descends and inspires you to believe that Jesus was the only son of God and that he was born of a virgin, well... you should be aware that your belief are going to seem silly to those who don't share them.

What struck me as really interesting was the way Dawkins frames the battle between science and unreason. He views his struggle as a defense one:
...Reason and a respect for evidence are precious commodities, the source of human progress and our safeguard against fundamentalists and those who profit from obscuring the truth.

Yet, today, society appears to be retreating from reason.

Apparently harmless but utterly irrational belief systems from astrology to New Age mysticism, clairvoyance to alternative health remedies are booming.
The emphasis is mine. Though I respect the project Dawkins has devoted himself too I think the idea that "New Atheism" is just a response to new attacks from unreason is pretty far-fetched. If anything it's a new offensive by atheists which overtly breaks the old truce between science and religion that gave each their own Nonoverlapping Magisteria. Dawkins refusal to politely respect religious beliefs destroy this pact just as surely as a Federation Cloaking Device.

Granted, this truce is being attacked from the other side too. The view that the revealed truth of God can over-rule testable hypotheses is not confined to the New Age faith-healers.

Here's another theory of what's happening. Most people who hold these unscientific positions aren't stupid or gullible, they've just been raised with beliefs that humans are all too prone to accepting. The religious community has always herded it's friendly non-threatening casual believers with hard-core uncompromising evangelists/bishops/imams. Could it be that the atheist community has only recently gained enough adherents to support their own version of the uncompromising take-it-to-the-logical-conclusion type leader that has been the staple of religion for thousands of years?

1 comment:

David said...

Nice post here. I'm reading Sam Harris' "The End of Faith" right now, and though I like his ability to show how faith-based ideologies can potentially be dangerous, he is essentially preaching intolerance. Sure, he's trying to say that we should be intolerant of people in important positions using faith as a basis for decisions that affect other people, and I can totally get on board with that. However, his style seems restless and bitter to me, and I end up doubting that he is going to convince anyone who isn't already agreeing with him.

I have Dawkins' book the God Delusion, but haven't started it yet. Carl Sagan's "Demon Haunted World" was, I thought, near perfect in its critical but optimistic warnings about letting faith guide your actions.